Lightning could use win vs. Blue Jackets to calm critics

TAMPA, Fla. — Just two games in to the season, Stanley Cup favorite Tampa Bay is already under scrutiny as the Lightning head into Saturday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Lightning, who have endured an odd schedule to start the season, picked up two points in the opening two games but were underwhelming in both performances — a shootout victory over Florida and a late loss to the Vancouver Canucks.

Tampa Bay was the highest scoring team in the league last season, but has scored just two goals in two games to start this season while going 0 of 8 on the power play.

“We need to finish. We’re not finishing,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “We are shooting some pucks at the net, but we’re not going there with a desire to score. That’s what you have to do in this league, especially with the goaltending and the way it is.

“These are NHL goalies. You have to go in there and get dirty ones. They are not all pretty. We’re probably resorting a little bit to trying to get the pretty goal.”

But captain Steven Stamkos said it’s too early to start worrying about Tampa Bay’s ability to score goals.

“We led the league in goals last year, so it’s just a matter of time,” he said. “That’s the least of our worries is scoring. That is going to come. It’s not cheating because it’s not coming; it’s playing the right way and continuing to improve.

“The power play has to find a way to start producing … we have to work hard as a power play if we want to be difference-makers out there.”

Columbus is getting contributions from its difference-makers, most notably Artemi Panarin, who had a goal and three points in a comeback victory at Florida on Thursday.

Defenseman Zach Werenski had a goal and two points, and Cam Atkinson notched the game-winner late in the third period as the Blue Jackets have won consecutive games despite missing All-Star defenseman Seth Jones and center Brandon Dubinsky to injury.

“We gathered ourselves and had an opportunity to win the hockey game,” Atkinson told NHL.com. “We got it done. We’re taking the right steps in the right direction. It might not be our prettiest, but we find a way to get it done.”‘

But there are areas that coach John Tortorella would like to see cleaned up going forward so his players don’t have to rely on strong third period showings to collect points.

“I talked to (the media) after the last game. We win in the third period and we win in the third period again, which is encouraging,” Tortorella told the Columbus Dispatch. “There (are) some great teaching opportunities for us here, as we found a way to win (Thursday’s) game. That’s the way I look at it.”